“Thank you very much for your patience,” pronounces Paul Weller after performing the entirety of his new album, Sonik Kicks. Thankfully, it’s a decent record, full of inventive, psychedelic tomfoolery, electronic warbles and squealing synths – a little like Davie Bowie circa Station to Station.
Unfortunately, in the second half of this gig we’re not rewarded for our patience with Weller’s best songs, or anything vaguely approximating his best songs. The Modfather, in his typically bold manner, simply suits himself, performing a perverse and baffling song selection. With Weller, the public rarely gets what the public wants. Still, the sharp-dressed (he appears to be sporting a wedding suit) 53-year-old appears to be energised and invigorated, even if his loyal, mainly Mod fans – old and new – look a tad dispirited.
You have to steel yourself for disappointment before experiencing Weller. The unrepentant 53-year-old isn’t in the business of catering to your needs, his whole career has been about moving on, evolving musically. So, no Style Council - an outfit memorably described by Melody Maker as the “the Don Estelle and Windsor Davies of supine albino funk” – tonight, and very little Jam. Just the majestic “English Rose”, which is by some distance tonight’s loveliest song. However, Weller, who these days resembles an indignant iguana, is on blistering form on his new material, his mellifluous voice excelling on the sensational lament “The Attic”, the droll “That Dangerous Age” and the golden-hued “By the Water”. There’s the occasional psychedelic longueur in the first half, but Sonik Kicks feels like an album strong enough to play in full, and Weller’s wife, Hannah, successfully joins him on the record’s languid, reggae-infused “Study in Blue”.
Unveiling the new material is a triumph, but the acoustic and electric sets less so. “Here’s a song from way back,” he promises us before 1995’s “Stanley Road”, which is frankly not “way back” enough. There is no room for “The Bitterest Pill”, “Eton Rifles”, “That’s Entertainment”, “Going Underground” and so on, but there is for ho-hum rock stomps like “From the Floorboards Up” and “Changingman”. However, “All I Wanna Do (Is Be with You)”, from 2008’s 22 Dreams, the record that kick-started Weller’s current renaissance, is an exquisite ballad and “Moonshine”, from 2010’s Wake up the Nation, is urgent and effective. But the set is allowed to drift, plodding to its frustrating climax with the underwhelming “Whirlpool’s End”, after which there’s an uncomfortable period in which Weller’s loyal contingent wait for an encore, which is not granted. Who can predict the mercurial one’s ever-changing moods?